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Hollie Davidson: “You hope that other female referees see us”
We talk to the Scottish referee about dealing with disappointment, maintaining momentum and the role mentor Joy Neville has played in her success.
Hollie Davidson has learnt to cope with frustration, and remain upbeat, as circumstances out of her control have impacted her officiating career in 2021.
The ambitious Scottish referee was due to make her debut as a Television Match Official (TMO) last weekend, until Edinburgh’s PRO14 fixture against Benetton was postponed due to a positive COVID-19 test at the Italian club.
It was the third such set-back in a little less than two months for Davidson, who would have refereed her first matches in both the European Challenge Cup and PRO14 were it not for the pandemic.
“In the day and age that we're in at the moment, it's kind of almost expected,” Davidson told World Rugby, prior to the latest postponement.
“I was really looking forward to the Newcastle-Castres game that was in January, and then when stuff was coming out in the media around teams potentially pulling out of the tournament because of COVID, that probably always plays in the back of your mind.
“And, then when I got appointed to the Glasgow-Treviso game... I was doing all of my prep, but until you're at Scotstoun on that day, anything could happen.
“So, it's trying not to get too emotionally involved in it and too frustrated because at the end of the day, it's only yourself that feels upset with it or disappointed.”
Davidson admits that the call to referee Newcastle v Castres in the Challenge Cup “came a little bit out of the blue, I probably didn’t expect it quite as quickly”.
But, she is hopeful that another opportunity will come her way. And if it does, she is keen to build on the foundations laid for Scottish and female officials by Mike Adamson and Joy Neville, who have both been involved with the men’s Six Nations this year.
“For me, doing these fixtures, it’s fantastic,” Davidson said. “You hope that we go out there and other females see us, other referees see us and want to want to get into those opportunities.
“As well, with the likes of Mikey (Adamson) from a Scottish perspective and Joy from a female refereeing perspective, they've now put their foot down to say we should be here.
“It's been a long time since a male [Scottish] ref has been at the top of the international game. So with Mikey taking steps forward, you kind of want to continue that momentum for Scottish refs.
“And, then you also don't want to do an injustice to what Joy has been doing for female refs and building that reputation.
“So, you want to continue her momentum, and I suppose just prove that we should be there and it's not about our gender.”
Neville, no stranger to making history, became the first woman to serve as a TMO in a men’s test during the Autumn Nations Cup in November, and has fulfilled the same role in the Six Nations.
The pair met on the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series in 2017, and Neville has provided valuable support to Davidson on her refereeing journey.
“She's a huge mentor to me,” Davidson said. “I'm probably on the phone to her every week, we discuss things. We have a very similar outlook and how we referee.
“And, she's just got more life experience than I do. She's been in a lot more different situations than me, so she can pass that knowledge on.
“So, she's been fantastic throughout my entire career, so from when I met her in the sevens to now doing 15s together is brilliant.”
Davidson’s path towards elite rugby began at school in Aberdeenshire, when her Bath-supporting woodwork teacher formed a girls’ rugby team.
The team reached an under-18s cup final at Murrayfield, with Davidson wearing either the number nine or 10 jerseys. “I reckon I was so annoying to referee,” she said.
“A lot of players that then transfer into refereeing say, ‘I thought I knew the laws’ and, god, I definitely did.
“But, because you're probably always around the ball and you're always following play, you're able to anticipate the play a little bit more and understand where the players are coming from. So, I think it's definitely helped me.”
That does not mean Davidson found the transition from playing to refereeing easy once injury convinced her to pick up a whistle.
Davidson admits to “getting bashed multiple times because I ended up almost standing in the nine-10 channel” in the early days of her officiating career.
However, she proved a quick learner and made her World Series refereeing debut in Las Vegas in March, 2017, aged just 24. Less than six months later, meanwhile, she was selected as an assistant referee for the Rugby World Cup 2017 final in Belfast.
“It blew my expectations,” Davidson said of Ireland 2017. “Especially when we moved up to Belfast for the semi-finals and the finals. The atmosphere at the Kingspan Stadium was something that I've never experienced.
“It was absolutely amazing, and to be part of that and be able to be there as someone right in the middle on the pitch was, oh, it was breathtaking.”
Davidson is keen to experience more nights like those in Belfast, starting with the Tokyo Olympics. “I obviously started in 2017 on the circuit and my aim was to get to the Olympics,” she said.
“You watch on TV and you see the opening ceremony and you see all the sort of jazz that goes with the Olympics. But, I think it's going to be a different Olympics.
“And in that case, there's something unique about that situation in itself, and I just think being there would be incredible.”